“When I began introducing mindfulness methods to co-workers or clients, the most noticeable shift was that people became more present with difficulty. They didn’t repress it or push it away. They were better able to say, “Okay, here’s a difficult situation. What are our options? What are the possibilities? What can we do with it?” I began to see a calmness and acceptance in difficult moments.
People also started to accept change with more ease. As you may know, when we practice mindfulness, we learn to see that everything is changing all the time. We watch our mind and our body. We notice thoughts and physical sensations rise and fall away. Sensations are changing. Ideas are changing. We become much more comfortable with change.
When I first started working with Google, I was intrigued by a real-time projection of what people were Googling. The whole wall was a projection of all these questions, phrases and fragments going up the wall, and then disappearing. I thought, “This is the global mind at work.” Just the way you watch your own mind in meditation, you’re getting to watch what the global mind is thinking and letting go of.
Back to coping with change. When I worked with a large chemical company in the mid-”˜90s, there was always a possibility they were going to be bought by somebody else. It was that period of mergers and acquisitions. The employees were always really worried about job security. I would focus our mindfulness practice retreats on dealing with change.
We discovered that the more comfortable we become with change, the more we can just be with whatever arises. Including a job loss. And that’s not to minimize that such a change could cause suffering. But we’d be able to be there with that suffering. That presence and awareness was huge in terms of developing leaders.”
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Introducing mindfulness to at-risk youth poses special challenges.
Ali and Atman Smith, and Andy Gonzalez of Holistic Life Foundation help children in one of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods find calm and confidence through yoga and meditation. Sam Himelstein, Behavioral Health Clinician at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center incorporates mindfulness with his young patients’ therapy.
All four men participated in last years Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth conference. They offered 4 practical tips to help educators, counselors and parents effectively introduce young people to mindfulness practices.
1. Meet them where they are. They may not be ready to sit upright, or even close their eyes. Start with simple steps, such as focus on your breathing.
2. Make it practical. Let them know that they can return to their breath, or focus on their thoughts no matter where they are or what they’re doing. This will help them practice more often.
3. Clarify the session. For instance, tell them, “We’re going to focus on our breath and notice whatever comes in.” It helps set expectations.
4. Don’t be attached to formality. Setting strict conditions is unrealistic. It may prevent people from wanting to practice.
HLF at TedX
If you’re having trouble connecting with the young people you work with, fear not. There’s hope. It works. Holistic Life Foundation gave a TedX Talk about the effectiveness of their work in the community. HLF started in 2001 with 20 fifth-grade boys. The foundation’s after-school program introduced yoga, mindfulness, urban gardening, and teamwork. In a city where the dropout rate for high school students is routinely higher than 50%, 19 of those first 20 boys graduated and the other got his GED.
Watch the 2012 and 2013 Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth conferences for more insights behind the research and practice of mindful techniques in educational settings.
California has always been open to the next new thing, whether a technology, a vintner’s innovation, or what the cultural winds blow in from over the Pacific. That’s how I first tried meditation, back when I was a student at the University of California in Berkeley, then the epicenter of the try-any-new-thing attitude.
As a competitive undergrad, my first impression of meditation was that it eased my worries. I used it as an anti-anxiety measure. Like a pill, I took it morning and evening. Those late in the day sessions proved another benefit: as a chronically sleep-deprived sophomore, I would nod off for a nap as soon as my meditation started.
Meditation trains attention by having us focus on one target (such as a mantra or the breath). Then comes the crucial difference between meditation and other ways to relax, whether exercising or spacing out online: in meditation, when we notice our minds wandering, we bring them back to a mental target and keep them there. Then when it wanders again, repeat. And again and again.
The research shows that this mental gym pays off after the session, throughout our day: meditation enhances people’s ability to concentrate, to keep their minds from wandering too much, and to focus in general. “Every time my mind wanders off during a business meeting,” one executive told me, “I ask myself, What opportunity did I just miss?”
A caution, though, if you’re thinking of starting meditation. Many people expect that they will somehow experience a high during the session. But the practice is more like going to the gym: at first it can be a struggle, though it gets easier over time. Many first-timers report, for instance, that their minds are more wild than ever during meditation, actually a sign that they are finally paying attention to how often our minds wander.
The CEO of a construction firm, a meditator himself, asked me to share these methods with those working at his headquarters. Understandably many were dubious. But I approach the method as a way to train the mind, not as some woo-woo magic, and the science behind it brought people around enough to give it a try. The CEO later told me the most enthusiastic person turned out to be his head of HR; she organized an ongoing meditation group there. And she was initially one of the skeptics.
Now that I’m in my 60s, the finding I like best comes from Harvard Medical School: some parts of the brain that shrink with aging actually seem to grow larger and their neurons more densely connected in meditators!
Taking photos and sharing them on our social media feeds has become second nature. Even an office coffee run can somehow turn into a photo shoot.
While it’s enjoyable, our snap-happy habits can lead us to live our lives through a small screen. And that’s no fun. How can we break the cycle?
One of the many benefits of mindfulness is how easily we can incorporate a present-minded awareness into any daily activity – including using your camera phone.
Last week Mindful.org guest curated our MindfulFilter feed. They offered exercises to help you stay in the present moment while using your camera phone. Three contemplative photography assignments were oriented toward you, the perceiver. They directed you to your experience of perception, not to the objects that are perceived. They did this by asking you to recognize the basic elements of your world.
Give it a try. Focus on one of these elements the next time you photograph something. Tag #mindfulfilter on Instagram, and briefly tell us what the experience was like.
Shooting color gives you something to look for that will align your eye and mind. When you work on this assignment, be patient.
• Just look for color. Don’t try to shoot something interesting or worry about composition. Your intention will become vague.
• Avoid getting caught up in thoughts of colorful things. It’s the simple experience of color you’re looking for.
• When you see a flash of color, get in close. Look on your viewfinder for just what stopped you.
Everything has texture, so it’s easy to recognize. Yet, it can be difficult to think about. Beyond smooth and rough, we don’t have many conceptions about it. Texture is less prominent than color and requires us to dig a little deeper into the experience of seeing.
• Begin each session by clearly forming an intention to recognize texture. Take an inventory of the types of textures around you: rough pavement, smooth glass, coarse tree bark, soft cat fur.
• Notice how the quality of light affects your perception of texture. Rough surfaces will look one way on an overcast day, another on a bright, sunny morning, and still another in the late afternoon.
• When you see an interesting texture, imagine you are also touching it. Let sight and touch come together. Try this for a little while without using your camera.
• When you do take a photo of texture, fill the viewfinder with just the textured element that stopped you.
With people we know well, we often only see our version of them””“my boss,” “my child”””and not as they are, in that very moment. We don’t look beyond labels to see the fleeting expressions on their faces, or how they’ve combed their hair that day. This practice helps us cultivate a fresh way to see people as they are beyond our subjective view.
• Start with people you know well. If you keep things low-key, the camera will soon lose its novelty and you and your subjects will be able to relax.
• You’ll face challenges in this assignment. People being photographed might try to project images of what they think will make them look good, and this strained effect will show up in the final image. You may have to wait them out to get fresh expressions.
• Confront ideas in your mind about people. If you try to take a picture of “my friends having fun at Bob’s birthday party,” rather than photographing a strong visual perception, you will end up with a snapshot.
• Just like a mindfulness practice, consider taking time to photograph regularly””say, once a week””to get comfortable with the practice of photography.
Below are some of our favorite contributions from our followers:
More Than Sound’s founder, Hanuman Goleman, wrote an article for Buddhist Insight Network about how his personal mindfulness practice guides the content he publishes.
“I listen to the news on the radio each morning. So much of what I hear is about the strife and difficulty of people, animals, and our entire habitat. Many of the actions I hear about seem so clearly rooted in greed, hatred, or delusion. Since I started my formal meditation practice in the late 80s during my teenage years, I have had an interest in mental constructs, specifically memes – self-replicating ideas. The ramifications of concepts being contagious from person to person are quite profound for me. In the extreme, there is dogmatic and thoughtless nationalism. But in a more subtle way, the fears and aggressions of our parents and our community easily become integrated into our own beliefs and worldview, even through hearing a simple radio program.
When I hear the news, I perceive what’s being conveyed as the physical manifestation of deep mental-emotional habits. I understand through my own practice that it’s possible for any habit to arise in anyone given the proper conditions. I have also seen the deconstruction of habitual tendencies through kind, honest, humble, and vigilant awareness. It is this possibility of transforming unhealthy habits that drives the work we do at More Than Sound.
More Than Sound (MTS) is a media publishing company that offers tools for developing mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and leadership skills. I started MTS in 2007 without a clear direction. Through my father, Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, I had the opportunity to publish CDs that would immediately have an international audience. I did it because I was looking for something to do, but after a couple of years, this minimal motivation became quite unfulfilling.
Through subsequent introspection and contemplation, it became clear to me that there are at least two core aspects of running a business that I want to be informed by my own Dharma practice. The first concerns the business structure, the office environment, and the well-being of my colleagues. The second is the potential effects of the publications we send into the world.
It’s important to me that meditation practice is a part of our work environment at More Than Sound; in fact, I am not interested in working somewhere that doesn’t integrate some contemplation and awareness into the office life. The reason is that meditation helps release fixed ideas and bring clarity and wisdom to our work, so that we are both more effective as a business and acting more in alignment with our personal values.
I find that I often have ideas about how I am feeling or about what is happening. Sometimes these ideas are loud and pushy, and become my primary experience by forcing my sensory experience out of the way. Other times, they are more subtle, existing as some lingering effect from an earlier experience. When unnoticed and left to their own devices, my ideas act as a powerful filter that influences the emotional tone of experience, as well as my whole state of being.
But when I can tune in to my raw, moment-to-moment experience, the loud ideas often prove to be quite fragile, and may simply fall away. And the subtler ones can be brought into awareness, so that they no longer have free reign on informing experience.
I have seen time and time again that consciously bringing attention to my experience as it unfolds allows me to notice some of the filters that are informing how I feel. This basic act of bringing awareness is often sufficient to release the holding pattern, leaving me with a more accurate view of my experience as well as a feeling of alignment. My mind is more spacious, clear, and focused. I am able to make decisions that feel wiser and more in line with the thoughtful and caring person that I would like to be.
I wished to bring this mindfulness practice into More Than Sound’s office environment. Imagine a meeting with six people, each of whom is having his or her own difficulties, joys, and distractions. Situations can easily be misunderstood through the various emotional filters that sift experience and give it a personal spin. I felt that simply sitting silently together, each bringing attention to her or his inner world and going through this process of alignment, would create a shared environment of less internal distraction, more focus and openness. A flow to our collective work endeavors would be more available without being blocked by our personal distractions. It is important to say that I don’t mean ignoring or avoiding any difficult emotions, but rather cultivating an inner orientation of spaciousness and alignment that cannot be subsumed by a particular thought or emotion. It is in this state that moments of creativity and focus are common.
Implementing mindfulness practice into the workplace was certainly different than talking about it. I experimented with a few ways of including meditation. At first I set an alarm on my computer to ring every 30 minutes. When we heard the alarm, we would all drop what we were doing and sit together in silence for 3 minutes. This was a bit disruptive to the workflow. We also tried 5 minutes every hour and 10 minutes before lunch, and finally arrived at having a sitting before our meetings. The sitting varies in length and is either in silence or guided from tracks of meditation instructions. Most recently, we have started sitting together in the morning too. These elements have created a nourishing work environment for all of us.
Spreading Ideas and Mental Habits with Intention
The second core facet of More Than Sound that is important to me is directly related to my interest in mental constructs and memes. Publishing is essentially the business of spreading ideas. If one publishes hate-filled vitriol, then those are the thoughts and state of mind they are spreading into the world. But similarly, one can publish material that brings benefit – for example, truthfully examining the human condition, offering some possibility of reducing conflict or pain, and suggesting ways that we can cultivate healthy, positive states. It is important to me that my work is a healthy influence, an agent of alleviating suffering in this difficult world.
The key is to be aware of the mental and emotional habits operating behind our actions. Our work at MTS encourages people to become aware of their habits and offers tools to do so. We can all see mental habits that are unskillful, and with some looking, we can also see habits that are skillful and healthy. Simple awareness is a transformative tool in shifting habits toward greater health.
I am inspired by the quality and potential for benefit of our products. Since I started MTS, mindfulness has become a buzzword in American pop culture. People are offering mindfulness instruction after doing very little practice themselves. We ensure the integrity of the instructions that we offer by working with authors who are rooted in Dharma traditions and have many years of practice and teaching.
One of the main topics that we highlight is the development of leadership qualities. Many leadership competencies are qualities that I have found to arise naturally from Dharma practice. SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, offers a list of leadership competencies that includes: managing change, demonstrating ethics and integrity, increasing self-awareness, and developing adaptability. These could have been pulled from Dharma instructions for householder life. These are also some of the qualities that make us effective, positive influences in the world at large.
I would like to see a world with more emotionally stable, generous, and kind people who recognize and understand that we are all in this together. This is true in at least two ways. In Buddhist terms, we are all subject to the Eight Worldly Winds: pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, gain and loss. We are also all literally “in this together.” We have decided national borders and come up with allegiances and group identities that offer some illusion of separation – someone as “other” – but the reality of our situation is that this planet is effectively a closed system. Every action has an effect, so whatever the emotion and intent from which we act, we are propagating the same.
Developing MTS has been a journey of trial, error and improvement – both in commerce and in management. I am thankful that mindfulness is part of our workday and hope to integrate more collective mindful moments into the environment here. I’m also happy that we are spreading that intention outward.”
One of the many benefits of mindfulness is how easily we can incorporate a present-minded awareness into any daily activity. How we use social media and our mobile phones can sometimes feel robotic and automated.
Our new interactive experiment, MindfulFilter, is an opportunity to pay more attention to how we use and interact with technology and social media through something we do regularly – taking and sharing photos.
This week’s MindfulFilter theme was Earth.
We saw two major trends in the photos people shared with us on Instagram: sky and light. Colorful cloud formations, rainbows and sunrises/sunsets galore.
Those fleeting moments need to be captured on the spot. There’s an unconscious drive to capture images that may not be there a second later. Perhaps we want to record and share situations that only we experience. Or we’re trying to make sense of things we don’t normally see.
With those considerations, we asked ourselves: Are we mindful of the moment we’re photographing – or are we responding instinctually without any conscious awareness?
One follower said: “I find that the process of taking pictures of such situations is incredibly mindful: you need to be cognizant of every move, every sound. It’s certainly a change from how I (we?) usually blunder through the natural world!”
There’s also an opportunity for the viewers of the photographs to practice mindfulness. When viewing some of this week’s #earth photos, for instance, we took a few extra seconds to examine different elements in the image, such as different shading in cloud formations or patterns in sunbursts. Elements we would usually notice, but not really look at closely.
The additional time we spent really seeing the image, or parts of it, allowed us to notice emotions that arose while looking at the photos: curiosity, awe, joy, jealousy (I wish I was actually there right now!), and so on.
Take a look at some of our favorite photos below.
What comes to mind when you look at these images?
Please consider taking part in our social experiment. It’s easy to participate.